“Impressions do not merely enter a child’s mind; they form it.”
One of Maria Montessori’s most important and fundamental discoveries was what she called “the absorbent mind.” During the first six years of life, children have a very different way of learning than adults. At this age, children have sponge-like brains; they are able to soak up vast amounts of information from their environment. And they do so effortlessly, continuously, and indiscriminately.
The young child’s brain is hardwired to learn at an incredible rate. When you think about all that the child accomplishes in those first years (non-verbal and verbal communication, small and large motor control, emotional and social skills, and so much more,) it is mind boggling.
How does the child do it? With their amazing absorbent mind! Maria Montessori observed that during the absorbent stage, children are constructing their individuality, or building themselves into the adult they will ultimately become. The development that takes place during the child’s first six years is vitally important. Children develop 85% of their core brain structure by the time they are five years old. And, the child will build on this core foundation throughout the rest of his life.
Conscious Absorbent Mind Stage
Maria Montessori separated the absorbent mind stage into two sub-stages: the unconscious and conscious stage. From birth to age three, the child absorbs information unconsciously or unknowingly. They learn to sit, stand, walk, use their hands, and speak, etc., without conscious effort. The child is developing their basic “faculties” or functions through mimicry. Children in this phase will mimic what they see. They are preparing themselves for the next phase: the conscious phase.
Conscious Absorbent Mind Stage
From three to approximately six years of age, children pass into the conscious stage of development. They still have sponge-like minds that absorb information easily, but now they will consciously seek certain experiences. Children in this phase are expanding their newly developed faculties and abilities. They are predisposed toward learning things like order, sequencing, early math, music, and letter shapes and sounds, all of which eventually lead to math, reading, and writing skills. They will also continue to refine their control of movement, balance, and basic physical mechanisms during this phase. Children in the conscious stage of development will demonstrate an innate (and often
intense) desire to make choices for themselves and to accomplish tasks independently. Maria Montessori referred to this as the ‘help me do it myself’ stage.
The young child’s absorbent mind has a singular capacity to absorb information from the environment. Studies have shown that certain parts of the brain will not develop without stimulation during these early, formative years. As development is sequential, these early foundations are essential for incorporating concepts that are more complex.
Montessori’s understanding of the power of the absorbent mind in the first six years of life is a great gift. It teaches us that we can prepare a rich environment for the young child and, as they simply live in the environment, they absorb from and learn from their environment. In Montessori Community School’s Early Education program for ages 2 through 6, children are introduced to all manner of interesting activities, including language, mathematics, the sciences, music, art, and geometry.
Through the power of the absorbent mind, we can give our children a broad and deep foundation, when it is completely effortless for them to learn. Through the amazing “mental chemistry” of the absorbent mind, the child builds their identity with wide interests. The child learns through self-chosen, engaging activity and builds a solid base habit of thoughtful concentration and structured learning.